Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

The Capitals Can Unclench

Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Weird things happen in the playoffs. After just two days we’ve seen game-winning goals from the unlikeliest players, including Tanner Glass, Joel Edmundson, Melker Karlsson, and Tom Wilson. And last night, with the Cup-favorite Caps facing the pressure and desperately needing an OT winner against Toronto, they got one from...oh, I already said Tom Wilson. Damn, I ruined my intro. Sorry, I’m just still a little shook that he scored.


It’s also already been a good postseason for Canadian teams putting their feet in their mouth (right, Ottawa?). On Monday, Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock was asked to evaluate Washington’s threats, and very accurately said of Wilson, “Nothing against Wils because he works hard and all that, but he’s not as big of concern as a lot of people on their team.”

There’s no lie in that statement, but read a certain way—say, the way that all professional athletes manufacture and consume motivation—it could’ve been seen as dismissive. And yes, the quote got around to Wilson.

“I see it obviously because my phone’s not off,” Wilson said. “It comes through. I get people sending it to me and stuff. I’m not going to deny that I saw it. Honestly, it’s a pretty true quote. He’s got a point.”

Not a great goal, by any means; I can’t think of a much worse angle; I bet Frederik Andersen would like that one back. But a goal’s a goal, and it’s a particularly big one for the 23-year-old Wilson, who grew up in Toronto playing ball hockey in his backyard and idolizing Darcy Tucker (I can see it), Shayne Corson, and Mats Sundin. “See you next week 😛”, he texted his father when the playoff matchup was set.

Wilson said he played this moment out in his head when he was a kid—when every shot is an overtime winner in the playoffs—although, he admitted, “maybe I was a Leaf at the time, when I was a little guy.”

Wilson wasn’t supposed to be the guy—he’s got just 21 career regular-season goals in four years—but the Caps will certainly take what they can get. Because things were getting pretty hairy there, especially when the Leafs grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first. “Wake up!” someone on the Caps bench yelled. But a pair of goals from Justin Williams (who is expected to work his dark magic this time of year) got things to the extra frame, and Washington can breathe a pretty huge sigh of relief.

“To me, it’s a really good wake-up call for us,” Coach Barry Trotz said.

“I know we’ve got another level, so I think it’s great that we had the start that we had. We were able to come out positive, and we can build on that.”

There’s time to get going—anything short of 15 more wins this postseason would be a disappointment for the Capitals—but not unlimited time. Not if the young, talented Leafs can play like they played early yesterday, and pick up the playoff experience they don’t have as they go, and if Frederik Andersen can stand on his head as he did in the third period. Those are a whole lot of ifs, and the Caps have a whole bunch of weapons who likely won’t be held in check like they were in Game 1, so this feels very much like the sort of series where Washington will win unless every conceivable thing goes wrong. Which has happened before, obviously. But the fact that they prevented it from happening last night bodes well for the Caps.

Deputy editor | Deadspin